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How to Assess a Horse’s Health and Welfare

How to Assess a Horse’s Health and Welfare


Good evening everyone, and welcome to the
My Horse University and eXtension Horse Quest live webcast on How to Asses a Horse’s Health
and Welfare. Our presenter for this evening is Dr. Carissa Wickens. Uh, next slide please.
Carissa is an assistant professor in the department of animal sciences at the University of Florida
and serves as an extension equine specialist. Her current responsibilities are to develop
and implement equine education and outreach programs and to conduct applied research in
the areas of equine management, behavior and welfare. Carissa completed her Ph.D. in animal
science from Michigan State University with an emphasis in horse behavior and welfare.
Please note that you are able to ask questions during the presentation using the question
and answer option at the top of your screen. We are also going to have time at the end
of the presentation for additional questions and we are also recording this presentation
and it will be available on the My Horse University website. And at this time, I’m going to turn
it over to our speaker, Dr. Wickens. Okay, thank you very much Gwyn. Good evening everyone!
I’m really excited about this presentation this evening. This is a great, very important
topic. And certainly when we talk about equine welfare, there has been quite a few advances
in our understanding of horses physical as well as psychological needs and how that affects
the way in which we manage horses. And it also is teaching us a lot about how horses
learn and how they respond to different things that we ask them to do in everyday routines
with our horses but certainly also as it relates to training and using horses for recreation
and for competition. So again, just very pleased to be with you all tonight and we’ll go ahead
and get started here! So, some of the things we we’ll talk about this evening are definitions
of welfare. So what is welfare? As well as an introduction to some key equine welfare
principles that – the goal really this evening is to send you away with some information
and things that will be helpful in your everyday work with your own horses at home but also
as you start to engage in conversations about equine welfare with friends, your neighbors,
other horsemen – just generally with others in the equine community. But also this is
really important when it comes to talking about the general public, some of their perceptions
of how we work with horses and what we do with horses, especially if they’re not coming
from an animal science or an equestrian background, we do find ourselves being asked questions
sometimes and we need to be prepared to explain to the general public in particular why and
how we do certain things with horses and how we’re trying to strive to understand those
horses better and what their needs might be. So we’re also going to talk then about assessing
horse welfare: how do we assess the horse’s welfare? We look at health measures and many
other things and so we’ll touch on those this evening. And then again, we’ll talk about
equine welfare science, so what are we learning through equine welfare science research. I’ll
share some interesting studies with you this evening and we’ll also provide you with some
equine welfare assessment tools and resources that again, you’ll be able to apply at home.
So why is horse welfare important? We’ve kind of just touched on that briefly but the public
in recent years has become increasingly concerned with how animals are used, cared for and housed.
There’s been kind of a concern for fairness and humane care. So in terms of fairness,
this may be that spectator at a show that might observe something that we do in the
show ring or doing something at the fairgrounds with the horses or at the competition with
the horses, that they may just not have a lot of background and may not understand.
And something that is very normal and very safe and appropriate for the horse, they still
may ask about it just because it’s not something they’re familiar with. In terms of humane
care, we certainly, as horse owners and managers at farms, we try every day to do our best
in the way we care for our animals. That is just part of good husbandry and good animal
care practices with our horses. But this also starts to stem into some of the neglect or
abuse cases that many of us are familiar with. We see a lot of those concerns expressed through
social media as well as just on the newscast and things like that. So welfare and assessing
welfare in horses also comes into play for folks that may have concerns about the care
of horses and certainly with neglect or abuse issues. It’s really kind of neat when you
think about the history of horses and in particular the history of horse/human interactions. The
idea of horse welfare and the importance of it really does have a long history despite
what some of us might think. And it really stems all the way back to a Greek cavalryman,
Xenophon, and he was considered the father of classical equitation. He actually wrote
the first fully preserved manual on the riding horse. It was called “The Art of Horsemanship.”
And in this text, he urged readers in addition to being good horseman and caring for their
animals, he really urged the readers to know the horse’s psyche – to understand something
about the horse’s mentality. And we’ll talk a little bit about the horse’s affector or
what we consider the emotional state of the horse a little bit later on in the presentation.
But his writings stressed the importance of horse care and handling as well as understanding
the horse. So understanding the behavior and the nature of the horse. So I just think that’s
really interesting and really important because there’s a very long history of that. Also,
a little bit more recent history. In the mid to late 1800s, many of us of course are very
familiar with the children’s classic, “Black Beauty.” This was a novel written by Anna
Sewell. And even though it was considered a children’s book, it was really all about
a moral purpose. Anna Sewell grew up in a town in England where it was very customary
to take horse drawn carriages to and from work and to business and to the market and
so forth. And as a child kind of growing up in this environment and watching the care
and the treatment of these carriage horses, she wanted to write kind of from the horse’s
perspective into the story some ideas as it related to kindness and sympathy and having
an understanding of the treatment of horses and how they should be treated. So it ended
up having a deeper meaning and many of us appreciate this book as sort of an early work
that was attributed to some of the practices that maybe weren’t quite so – perceived as
being really fair to the horse back then. So this book in particular was said to have
an instrumental affect in abolishing the practice of using the check rein in which the horse’s
head was checked really high and tightly for the majority of the day. This was again, something
that was sort of early in history looking at the care and treatment of horses. So let’s
then talk about, what is animal welfare? How would we define the term welfare when we’re
talking about animals in general or certainly for the purpose of this evening’s presentation,
we’re focusing in on horses. Animal welfare acknowledges the use of animals under humane
conditions. So this would certainly include animals that are kept as livestock for production
purposes, it includes our pets or companion animals, and also animals that we keep for
recreation. So under this definition, animal welfare acknowledges that we are using these
animals but then we have a responsibility to care for and treat those animals as best
we can. Again, keeping in mind that they have certain needs and we need to meet those needs.
The other definition that some people – I feel like when we talk about animal welfare
some people get concerned and you’ll run into some oppositioner and challenges and discussing
animal welfare because the other sort of swing to this or other philosophy behind this animal
rights. Animal rights refers to animals having the same kinds of rights as humans. But under
this philosophy or theory basically, these folks believe that animals should not be used
for any purpose. So welfare is not the same thing and so I just wanted to point these
two definitions out. Animal welfare versus animal rights; two pretty different theories
or philosophies in that animal welfare – we are having a relationship with these animals,
we are utilizing these animals but making sure that we are giving them optimum care.
So a little bit more about animal welfare definitions. I’m going to talk with you a
little bit about the three concepts of welfare. And we basically present these as sort of
three overlapping circles. So the first circle that I’ve brought up here is basic health
and functioning. So in this definition of welfare or concept of welfare, this is some
work and some and theory that was developed by Donald Broom at the University of Cambridge.
And in this definition, “the welfare of an animal is its state as regards to its attempts
to cope with its environment. The animal may fail to cope in that its fitness is reduced
and either it dies, or it fails to grow, or its ability to reproduce is reduced in some
direct way.” So under this circle of basic health and functioning, it’s really focusing
on the animal’s fitness – its ability to grow and function and to reproduce and so forth.
So it’s really kind of focusing on the basic health and functioning of – physiological
functioning of the animal. The other circle then, the second circle, is considered natural
living. So this concept of welfare is not only concerned with basic health and functioning,
but it takes it a step further kind of into this separate or different concept. But you
can start to see that there’s a little bit of overlap that’s shown here and I’ll come
back to that in a minute. So in this definition, this is from Bernard Rollin from the early
1990s. His definition is “not only will welfare mean control of pain and suffering, it will
also entail nurturing and fulfillment of the animals’ natures. So natural living is considering
what the animal in a natural setting, or basically a free-ranging or feral setting, would do.
What are it’s normal repertoire of behavior and is it allowed to perform those behaviors
so again, the animal’s natures. The third circle shown here is what we consider affective
state or the emotional state of the animal. And this one in particular of the three concepts
or three definitions of welfare is really probably the most challenging and also the
most exciting because this is an area that we are finally able to really look at this
objectively through some of the newer research methodologies and some of the studies that
are being performed currently. So here, this is a thought and a definition from Ian Duncan,
also in the early 1990s. This is defined as “neither health nor lack of stress nor fitness
is necessary and/or sufficient to conclude that an animals has good welfare. Welfare
is dependent on what the animal feels.” So the affective state is dealing with trying
to assess or better understand the animal’s feelings. Which, again, they can’t talk to
us so that is probably the most challenging part but we’re making some advances in this
area. Just another thought here from Marian Stamp Dawkins, “Animal welfare involves the
subjective feelings of animals…it is a concern that some of the ways in which humans treat
other animals cause mental suffering and that these animals may experience sensations or
emotions such as pain, boredom, frustration, hunger and other unpleasant states.” So it’s
the understanding that the animal is capable of experiencing negative or positive emotions
or states and how do we asses that? How do we get at that? And is it important to – assuring
a level of welfare for the horse. Certainly, I think we all agree that this is an important
aspect. So again, what is the animal welfare? There’s these three circles that overlap.
So again, the three concepts are basic health and functioning, natural living, and affective
state. And depending on which we place the most important or emphasis on, depends a lot
on our own experiences and background as we work with horses and as we continue to work
with horses. And, for example, even depending on what discipline we’re working in or what
type of job or position we hold within the equine industry, these viewpoints can differ.
But again, my main point here is that these three are concepts of welfare that are all
important and you can see with the overlap that essentially we try to come up with welfare
solutions or assessing solutions that really address these multiple views. So the other
aspect here is what we call the five freedoms of animal welfare. So the current form of
these five freedoms were proposed by the farm animal welfare council in the United Kingdom
and these are really key aspects to what is animal welfare, how do we define that, and
how do we assess it. So the five freedoms are; freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom
from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express (most) of the
animal’s normal behaviors, and freedom from fear and distress. So, if we think back to
the three circles or the three concepts of welfare, there is some overlap and these two
things really go together very nicely. And they really provide the essential framework
for considering topics and issues in horse welfare. So for example, I have in blue text
here, freedom from hunger or thirst and freedom from injury or disease. Those would really
go well or fall within that first blue circle: basic health and functioning. The text in
orange, so freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, and freedom from fear and distress,
those fall within the orange circle which is the affective state of the animal. And
then normal behavior, the freedom of the animal to express most of their normal behavior or
nature would certainly fall into the green circle which was identified as natural living.
So again, our viewpoints might differ but some of these things certainly overlap and
some examples would be, you know, we can assure health of the horse if we have a good herd
health management program. We’re deworming the horse, we’re having regular routine hoof
care done, we’re giving them some exercise, we’re making sure that they are functioning
but they are biologically healthy and sound. That mostly falls into that first circle,
the basic health and functioning. But, if we also provide turnout and let them socialize
with other horses, then we’re also within that natural living circle. And then the affective
state, you know, we can pay attention to things like how much the horse vocalizes when they’re
separated from other horses, we can – and I’ll present some research to you this evening
that shows a little bit again how we’re looking at how the horse is perceiving its environment
and what affects some of our management or training techniques or schemes, you know,
having for that horse. And again, that one is a little bit more challenging. But all
three are important to consider. So a little bit of a question, and I realize since we
aren’t talking together live tonight, it’s a little bit hard to do this, but I present
these two pictures. And as we’ve just talked about the three concepts of welfare and the
five freedoms, I want you to just take a few seconds to look at the top picture and the
bottom lower left picture. We have horses in two very different situations. But just
take a few seconds and just see as it relates those concepts of welfare, if you can kind
of think about how would you start or go about assessing the welfare of these horses in these
two different settings. So I think at first glance, there’s many of us that would look
at the lower picture on the lower left of the two horses together in that very lush
long grass pasture with a nice shade tree there. It looks like a very nice facility.
That right from the get-go is very aesthetically pleasing. There’s two horses together, they
have the opportunity for turnout and they have the opportunity for grazing because there
is enough forage there to actually meet that foraging need or desire, that natural grazing
behavior. So you know, we can look at affective state or think about you know, for the horse,
you know, which situation is potentially better. And again, that’s fairly hard to measure.
It’s probably easier to look at both of these pictures and look at the horses in each image.
We can look at the condition of these horses. So we can look at their hair coat, we can
look over their body and see if we see any older injuries, scrapes, those kinds of things.
You know, we can look at their – we’ll talk about this in a minute – but we can look at
their body condition scores. So the condition of these animals, how much fat covering is
on these animals. And I think that we would all be in pretty good agreement that none
of the animals pictured seem to be in any poor state of welfare in terms of health.
But compared to the lower picture, if we look at this horse by himself, you know, then we
start thinking about natural living. So is this horse given opportunities to socialize?
Is there grass or forage there for that horse to eat? We can see on the ground that it looks
like there’s some remnants of some hay. So obviously this horse is being provided with
feed and forage. The look of the pasture in the back, this may also be late fall/early
winter so it’s just kind of the condition of the grass behind this horse. There’s also
health reasons why a horse may be kept on a dry lot. If they’re a really easy keeper,
if they’ve had a history of laminitis, maybe we want to restrict their calorie intake,
maybe in the winter we just want to keep them off the pasture so that we’re not damaging
grass. So there’s all different reasons why these horses might be in these particular
context or situations. So part of welfare assessment is looking at the big picture and
looking at – certainly if we have multiple animals on a farm, we may not just be looking
at the individual’s welfare but looking at them as a small population or as a group of
animals and starting to think about those three concepts of welfare and what needs might
be met and where we might be lacking. So, how do we go about assessing welfare? What
indicators can we use to assess whether a horse or a group of horses is experiencing
a good state of welfare or a poor state of welfare? So there are several things we can
use and that we do use and that are being researched as part of equine welfare science.
We do look at behavioral indicators, physiological indicators, there’s also biological indicators,
as well as immunological indicators. And I’ll explain each of these in the next few slides.
So, in terms of behavioral indicators of welfare, what are we talking about here? We certainly
use natural horse behavior which our best example of how horses behave naturally or
what normal behavior looks like in horses, our best example are studies observing feral
or free-ranging horses. Because in those populations, they are of course unmanaged. So when we’re
looking at social interaction and social structure, normal or natural grazing and feeding behavior,
those are some of our best examples of what we know to be sort of true of the ethology
or the nature of a horse in terms of their behavioral repertoires. But in terms of behavior,
we can look at things like vocalization, the social interaction. We can also look at fear
responses, that fight or flight response that we see in horses as they react to stimuli
or different experiences. Also, again, foraging and grazing – so we know how important that
is and how much time horses spend each day grazing. It can be as much as sixteen to seventeen
hours a day if they’re out on pasture and allowed to do that. So those are very important
sort of natural behaviors that we look at and can turn to for some indication of welfare.
We also then will observe abnormal behaviors. So are abnormal behaviors? And if they are,
how frequently do they occur and what type of abnormal behavior? So I kind of use the
abnormal behavior term a little bit loosely here underneath I’m really talking more about
stereotypic behaviors. But abnormal behaviors may also be things like abnormal aggression,
abnormal aggression towards other horses, abnormally high levels of aggression to humans.
Abnormal behavior can also be changes in behavior. So a horse that’s generally very friendly
and affable and a good performer, if their behavior shifts, that might be an indication
that there’s a sub-optimal environment or maybe that horse is experiencing pain or some
other kind of stress. But here I list things like stereotypic behaviors such as stall walking,
cribbing and weaving. And so in the past, stereotypies have been used as welfare indicators
but part of the challenge there is that some of us that own or have managed or worked with
stereotypic behavior horses, those horses come to a farm with a lot of history often.
It may not be that current environment or current owner that is the cause of this stereotypic
behavior, that horse may have already had previous history that’s created those behaviors
and now we’ve inherited those behaviors once they’re already established. We have some
webcasts and some other resources available on stereotypic behaviors so I’m not going
to cover a lot of that in this talk tonight but I can certainly take some questions at
the end about stereotypies. Behavioral responses to illness or pain. I a horse – basically
if their appetite changes, if they decrease their feed intake, if you find them having
posture changes, they start to favor a limb or tread their limbs – tread their feet back
and forth frequently, having a dull or listless appearance especially in a box stall where
the horse just seems withdrawn and is staring at the wall, it’s not reacting to stimuli
or events around the barn and in its environment. Those can all be behavioral responses to illness
or pain or generally to chronic stress in some cases. So those are all things to take
note of. Also, all of these are examples of behavioral indicators of welfare. So what
about physiological indicators of welfare? There’s several and one of the things that
just on a routine basis we like to do in terms of checking the health status of the horse,
and again, health directly plays into welfare, it falls within that first circle of basic
health and functioning. Some of the things we should get used to doing on a routine basis
are taking horses’ vital signs. This is something that your veterinarian will do, this is something
that many of our horse owners learn to do because once you understand what the normal
range is for heart rate, respiration, temperature are for your horse and the more you monitor
health and behavior, the quicker and more effective you are in identifying problems.
So whether again it’s illness or a pain response, then you can work with your vet to diagnose
and put together the proper treatment plan quickly. But heart rate, respiration, temperature.
Other vital signs include looking at the mucus membranes on the horse, so going to the horse’s
gums and looking for a nice moist pale pink in color gums. You know, heart rate in a resting
horse/an adult horse should be around 28-40 beats per minute. Respiration is usually 8-16
breaths per minute. And temperature at resting in an adult horse is around 99.5-101 degrees
Fahrenheit. So again, understanding what the normal ranges are and taking those periodically
on your horse when your horse is feeling healthy and is behaving normally. That can help you
keep records and assess that when all of the sudden there are changes. Looking again at
feed and water intake so again, we know if horses aren’t feeling well, if they’re stressed,
if they’re in pain, if they’re sick, they will back off on their feed and water consumption.
And then of course that can create a whole other host of problems especially if they
aren’t drinking well. We can have issues with colic and some other health concerns, dehydration
for example. So monitoring intake is also important. And that is considered a physiological
indicator. We can also think about and then assess horses responses to certain stressors.
And I have just a list here of some of the common stressors that horses experience. And
many of these are fairly common and routine in the everyday life of a horse or at least
on a fairly frequent basis throughout the year for a horse. Certainly, if we’re talking
about broodmares and foals if we have a breeding operation, a natural process is to wean that
foal so that we can start working with that young horse, put them into training, be able
to separate them or at least put them in a group of similar aged horses to feed them
appropriately. These are all reasons for actually weaning the horses but we know that that is
a stressor to the foal and a stressor to the mare. So we can think about and talk a little
bit about how we might reduce some of the stress with some different weaning methods
or weaning techniques. Farrier or veterinary work, this is an interesting one. I mean,
obviously horses can get stressed during these procedures but certainly we can argue that
without routine hoof care, trimming, and veterinary work, herd health, vaccination and deworming
programs, then we start to have reductions in the level of welfare for those animals.
And again, that goes back to that biological health and functioning circle. We can have
horses with injuries, limited feed availability or limitations of other resources. If horses
are kept in isolation, they’re not able to socialize or interact with other horses and
we know that that can be detrimental to welfare. Showing and trail riding. You know again,
we use these horses just for pleasure and recreation and we really enjoy that and that’s
something that also is part of the horse/human interaction. But, we can argue that especially
if a horse is going to a showgrounds for the first time, transporting that horse being
in an environment that’s new, maybe being separated from herdmates back home, all of
those things can induce stress. But they are routine practices and they’re things that
we do with our horses. But the key thing there is there are ways to mitigate some of this
stress and prepare horses for these procedures. Physiological indicators specifically some
of the things that we can measure in horses to give us some sense of what type of welfare
or what level of welfare they’re experiencing – we can measure cortisol. Cortisol is the
hormone produced by the adrenal glands, so it is considered a stress hormone. It’s secreted
when an animal experiences a stressor and cortisol also acts within the body to increase
blood pressure, it mobilizes fats and glucose for quick use by the horse, and it also can
aid in reducing allergic reaction and reduces inflammation. So cortisol has a role to play
in the body. The problem comes in whether we have chronic stress situations, if horses
experience prolonged increase in cortisol secretion, this can actually suppress the
immune system. We can measure cortisol in horses by taking blood samples, we also have
some more non-invasive ways that we’re utilizing now to study stress response, looking at cortisol
so we can actually collect saliva samples from horses. We can also measure cortisol
or cortisol metabolite in the urine or the feces of the horse. So that’s become really
really key because we don’t have to do the blood draw, we don’t actually have to stick
the horse in the jugular vein to draw the blood sample which can also induce a stress
response. So we’ve got these great ways now that we can measure and understand all of
this a little bit better with also making it just less invasive and much easier for
the horse. Heart rate and/or heart rate variability which we call HRV. These are other physiological
indicators. Heart rate variability is a little bit more difficult to explain and understand
but it’s used in conjunction with heart rate but it basically show that the fight or flight
response of the horse. And so if a horse is stressed, typically we’ll see increases in
heart rate and we’ll also see changes or differences in heart rate variability. And the heart rate
variability is just measuring the variation in that beat to beat interval. So these are
two measures that are sometimes used alone or more often I’m seeing them used in conjunction
with one another to again, be a measure of stress and how the horse is responding to
different things. So this is an example, this is a study that was done both with horses
in Michigan actually and then a second part of the study was carried out with young horses
in France. This was a visiting researcher, a grad student, that came to Michigan State
University when I was a student there. She was looking at some different methods of weaning
foals from their dam. And so at the time of separation from the mare, they had these horses
put into two different groups. One of the groups of foals was what we call a ‘peer weaned
group.’ So these babies were put in a group together with foals of similar age. All of
these babies were weaned about four to five months of age. And so the peer weaned group
was just with other literally peers, same aged foals. And then we had this ‘adult weaned
group.’ And the adult weaned group was a group of babies that were put out in the Michigan
farm, they were put out with two older mares who had maternal experience, so they had had
foals before. And the larger group of horses, the second part of the study that was conducted
in France, was actually looking at this group of babies put out with an older mare as well
as an older gelding just to eliminate the effect of it having seen only female adult
horses. They wanted also to see whether the gelding had an influence or not. So in this
study, in this graph here, they were measuring salivary cortisol. So as a measure of stress
response, they were using salivary cortisol as a physiological indicator and we can see
here at the time of weaning, it says weaning with the arrow pointed there towards the data
here. And we actually see the adult weaned group, that’s the solid line, throughout the
study – throughout the behavior and physiological observations in this study, they showed that
the salivary cortisol response in that group of babies that was the adult weaned group,
was lower than the peer weaned group. So just having kind of a surrogate adult horse in
the group of babies seemed to reduce some of the stress at least as indicated by salivary
cortisol. And again, in this study they also looked at locomotion of the babies, they counted
the frequency of vocalizing from the foals and so they were using behavioral and physiological
indicators together to look at this question of whether or not we could reduce some of
the stress of weaning by providing adults in the group of babies. This graph shows heart
rate response of a horse to transport. This was a mare that we actually had in the teaching
herd at University of Delaware when I was on faculty there a few years ago. This was
a mare that had never left the farm and she was fairly new to trailer loading. She had
been loaded on a trailer a few times before but had never actually been transported off
the farm. So this was a study – I had a few of our undergraduate students in the program
do kind of a mini…just a little pilot test looking at using either negative or positive
reinforcement. So positive reinforcement consisted of clicker training and training the horses
to actually touch a target and using the target to help get the horse on the trailer. And
then transporting the horses around farm for about a ten minute ride just on the property
of the farm. Or negative reinforcement which was just using halter pressure, pressure and
release of the halter, to get the horse to walk up the ramp and enter the trailer. So
it was a little bit about differences in how we trained the horses, but ultimately what
this shows is that for this mare in particular, if you look at her heart rate data and you
see a peak about – between zero and five minutes of data collection here with the heart rate
monitor – and you see this fairly large peak. That was about the time that the trailer actually
started in motion and you can see that her heart beat went from around 110-115 beats
per minute up to almost 180 beats per minute. Which, if we equate that to how high the heart
rate gets in a horse associated with exercise, it was actually falling into that moderate
intensity level. So flight or fight response was basically in action here as it related
to transport and it’s just another physiological indicator using heart rate to measure that
stress response. What about biological indicators of welfare? What are we talking about here?
This gets into what we would consider ‘production measures.’ And, you know, in other livestock
species: swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, we can look at things like average daily gain,
we can look at milk production in dairy cattle and how the management of what we’re doing
to those animals and what impacts those biological or production measurements. In horses, that’s
not so much certainly, what we’re utilizing horses for. They are pleasure and recreation
and competition animals. So some of the biological indicators that we’re going to talk about
really focus on the purpose of the horse. So certainly if we’re looking at reproduction
or growth, that would relate to our broodmares and our young growing horses, so foals, yearlings,
the younger horses. We can use growth as an indicator. But in most of our horses, what
we’re talking about as a biological indicator would be body condition. So assessing the
body condition of the horse, looking at body weight, and changes in body condition and
weight can be very useful indicators of welfare. Is that horse in overall good health and condition?
We can also look at general attitude in our horses. So an example of this would be when
we’ve got that generally friendly horse that suddenly becomes maybe aggressive. This could
be when we’re grooming, or when we’re tacking up for riding. It could be a horse that suddenly
changes its attitude or behavior towards others in the group, so when this horse is turned
out, all of a sudden they’re just really going after another horse or group of horses. And
these shifts in attitude or changes in behavior would certainly be an indicator that they
are not functioning normally again, a biological indicator of welfare. In horses then, we can
look at performance but this can be difficult to quantify. It may be a little easier with
disciplines like racing or endurance only because we can look at racing times or racing
results as an indicator. For our show ring horses, our showing horses, changes in their
show ring performance might be very subtle but that could indicate some issues with welfare
particularly if we’re seeing those changes over a period of time and they start to progress
to a point where they are not subtle anymore, that we’re really noticing these. It could
be an indication of something wrong. One thing I’ll say though is just like people, horses
can have what we would consider a ‘bad day.’ But again, if it’s a frequent occurrence,
it may indicate a problem and especially if it becomes more frequent and more intense.
So body condition scoring, this is something that we certainly encourage all horse owners
to be familiar with and to get in the practice of doing this periodically with your own horse
or horses. It’s a tool that I’ll actually show you – there’s some great tools and some
smartphone apps now that can help you do this and not only help you learn how to body condition
score but also as a record keeping method so you can actually take pictures and assess
your horse’s body condition and monitor that throughout the seasons and over time. So with
body condition scoring as a biological indicator, we’re looking at six key areas of the horse’s
body: along the neck, along the withers, behind the horse’s shoulder, across the horse’s ribs,
up over the loin or what we call the crease of the back, and along the horse’s tail head.
This is a numeric scoring system and it is on a scale of one to nine with one being poor
– this is an animal that’s extremely emaciated – all the way up to the high end of the scale
which is a nine. A horse that receives a body condition score of nine is extremely fat.
So on these horses, there will be an obvious crease down the back, there will be patchy
fat up over the ribs, along the ribs, fat along the inner thighs. So when this horse
moves, you may actually see the thighs of the horse rubbing together. On the low end
of the scale, these are our poor conditioned animals. These animals, you can kind of think
about these horses – literally you see almost all of the skeletal structure especially in
those body condition score one and two horses. So these are the horses that a lot of our
ag law enforcement, animal services, staff members, these are the horses that they’re
getting calls on and are often having to respond to cases involving horses that are malnourished,
underfed, and not getting the resources they need and of course, they loose body condition
to the point where they’re at this low end of the scale. Our ideal, where we like to
see our horses, is in the moderate part of the scale. So basically we want our horses
at a body condition score of five to six. Some of our elite athletic horses, horses
that are in race training or are currently racing. Sometimes polo horses that are high
goal, really competitive polo horses – those horses might be closer to a body condition
score of four/four and a half. They have a tucked up appearance, they have good muscling,
you might see – slightly see – a little bit of their rib. So they’re a little bit on the
thinner side but they’re still within that moderate range and it’s not uncommon to see
those highly athletic horses look a little bit on that leaner side. I think a lot of
us are fairly used to seeing horses that are more on the fleshy side of this scale. And
I think that can be a challenge because we become more accustomed to seeing more horses
on the higher end, those sevens and eights, maybe for some of us if that’s our experience,
when we see those fours and fives and maybe that looks very different to us. But again,
we can have horses that are on that high end of the body condition score scale that are
also a concern in terms of health and welfare because if they’re gaining too much weight
and they’ve got an excess of fat, they’re taking in too many calories and not expending
those calories, they can have metabolic issues that can be harder on their joints and on
their feet. So it’s also a concern from a welfare perspective if they’re too fat. This
just shows an example of a horse that might be considered thin. This is a body condition
score of maybe two and a half to three. You guys can clearly see the ribs on this horse,
you can see some of the shoulder or the scapula structure, there is not much topline or fat
covering over the withers and the loin of this horse or the tailhead. So this would
be a – definitely a horse on the thinner side. The horse on the bottom right, this would
be considered an ideal. This horse would score a five on the Henneke body condition score
scale. And again, to some of us, this may actually look pretty lean but this is considered
ideal. But again, anywhere between basically a four and a half and that six is considered
that moderate and is more of where we want to see our horses. So the last indicator that
I’m going to say a few words about is immunological indicators. So again, this really does tie
back into health but it is considered sort of its own indicator because there are some
specific parameters or things that we can look at here. So I mentioned already that
with chronic stress, high levels of cortisol, we can see suppression of the horse’s immune
system. So this makes them more susceptible to disease. Immunological measures include
incidence of disease, so are these horses showing signs of disease, more susceptible
to infections, are they getting sick more frequently. And also, we can look at fluctuations
in white blood cell counts or parameters. For example, we can look at the ratio of different
white blood cells to others in the blood. We can just look at whether white blood cell
counts are elevated or low and so forth. And that can be some indication of poor or reduced
welfare. So, when we talk with others about welfare, one of the places we can begin, and
that we really probably should begin, is helping especially our new horse owners – those that
are new to the equine industry – helping them understand there are responsibilities that
come with ownership and management. You know, we should all understand something about the
horse’s nutritional needs so that we can feed them and provide them feed resources appropriately
and make sure that we’re meeting their needs, keeping them in good condition. Providing
adequate foot care and grooming, making sure that we’re familiar with common horse diseases
and parasites and how we can work together with our veterinarians to make sure that we
have good health protocols and vaccination and deworming protocols in place to reduce
the chance of that horse catching a disease: having horse health issues. Also, being familiar
with signs of lameness, pain and distress. But again, this starts to create some challenges.
One of the things that’s becoming really important in assessing welfare though is we look at
horses’ posture and we can also start to use horse facial expressions – how they hold their
body, how they’re positioning their ears, what does their overall demeanor appear to
look like. So the pictures that I have here, I think we can all agree that the horse shown
here with its handler, this horse has her ears forward, she has a bright alert expression,
she seems relaxed, she seems alert, you know, fairly content. The horse on the right, this
horse here is actually an Arabian gelding that had a really deep hoof abscess and you
can see a little bit of the vet there checking him and starting to dig a little bit away
at that abscess to open that and to drain that and to treat that. And I think if you
guys focus in and just look at this horse’s face, you can see the ear position. The ear
position is back, not flattened against his head, but it’s back and stiff. You can see
tension around this horse’s eye, above the eye and around the eye itself. This horse’s
muzzle and the nostrils kind of tense and tighten and his lip is very tight. So I think,
again, we look at the horse’s facial expression here and we can certainly agree that this
horse does not look comfortable. This would be a fairly indicative facial expression of
a pain response. And I’ll come back to that in just a minute. So, what I wanted to do
also this evening is just very quickly present some of the research that’s helping provide
some additional insight into not only how we can assess welfare but what actually matters
to the horse and how can we start to figure that out in a way that then we can incorporate
into our management and help us do that. And the cool part about this I think really is
that as horse men and women, we already have a good background in this and we know things
that relate to that natural behavior. So again, increasing forage for horses, giving them
time to socialize and be horses is a big part of what a horse is. It’s a big part of their
behavior. But it’s really exciting to see research that backs this up so that again,
we can help educate and actually make sure that we are doing these things daily with
our horses. So this was a study by Benhajali et al back in two thousand nine, but this
was a study looking at providing horses with foraging opportunities and specifically, they
paired two groups of horses; one that had access to hay basically ad libitum the whole
time and another group that were restricted fed with forage. And they were wanting to
use this as a crucial criteria for horse welfare. So what other things could they measure to
assess how this impacted the horse’s welfare. So in this study, they had one hundred Arabian
mares, they divided this group of one hundred horses into two groups of fifty horses each
and these mares were allowed to forage on hay. One group was kept on a dry lot with
hay hung up in hay nets. So for basically most of the day they were turned out on this
dry lot but had ad libitum access to hay in the hay nets. The other group of fifty mares
was kept on the dry lot but did not have access to hay, they were only fed in their stalls
in the morning and then again in the evening. So while they were out on the paddock, they
were not given access to hay. These horses were observed for a total of six thousand
minutes and the behaviors that were measured were used to put together a time budget. So
basically, of all the time the horses were observed, they could measure the duration
of time spent eating and socializing and there was a couple other behaviors that they measured.
So in the experimental group, this was considered the group of horses, the group of mares that
had ad libitum access to hay in the hay nets. They were shown to spend more time feeding,
which of course does make sense. They had more hay in front of them throughout the day
when they were standing in the paddock. But they also, in the behavior observations, they
found that they spent less time alert standing and a lower time total spent in locomotion,
so pacing or walking around the paddock. They also observed more positive social interactions.
They saw things like more social grooming and just more time with the mares interacting
with one another. Generally, they described this as more time bonding between the mares
in the group that had ad libitum hay access. So some conclusions from this study using
behavioral indicators primarily; they saw increased vigilance and locomotion in the
non-foraging group which could be an indicator of more stress associated with the lack of
forage access. They also talked about giving mares the opportunity to forage seemed to
lead to more positive normal social interactions between the mares. And one of the take home
messages here was that in addition to forage, it might be possible to use other paddock
enrichments that could mimic this effect similar to enrichment used in captive zoo environments
– so primate exhibits, other exhibits in zoos. They work really hard to try to provide environmental
enrichment and it really has an influence on the animal’s behavior. So providing access
to forage seemed to have some positive benefits for the horses in terms of welfare. This study
is very interesting. You know, generally when we think of horses, we observe our horses
engaging in games of halter tag, we see horses play and most of us consider play an indicator
really of good welfare. If horses are playing, to us that probably means that they are socially
interacting, they are able to express some play and natural behavior. And especially
in young horses, juvenile horses, play is also very important to their survival skills.
They learn how to interact with one another, they learn about the dominance hierarchy,
they learn – if it’s a colt, they learn some sexual play behavior through playing with
mom – those kinds of things are very important. So we know that play is an important part
of welfare, especially for young horses. But this study looked at this in a little different
way. So one of the things they mention is that when we look at and study feral or free-ranging
horses, play behavior is essentially absent in adult horses. But, in our adult domestic
horses, we do see play. And so we were trying to design an experiment, design a study to
evaluate this. You know, why do we play in domestic horses but not so much in adult wild
horses? So in this study, they looked at twenty nine adult French Saddlebred horses from a
riding school and they recorded play behaviors in one hour sessions. And this was a mix of
geldings and mares in this study and they described play behavior as head, neck or chest
biting, collective running – so where the horse would kind of gallop and just kind of
move with the group around the paddock. That’s also pursuit behavior and also just kick threats,
so they weren’t flattening their ears but it’s kind of where the horse would just kind
of back up to one another and lift up a foot or kind of kick at the other horse and then
kind of run off. So a couple different play type behaviors that they were looking at.
I should mention too that these horses were between the ages of seven and seventeen and
in this study, the horses in the riding school worked on average four to six hours a week
in a riding lessons program where teens and adults were the riding clients and they were
anywhere from novice to advanced riders. So the results of this study, they actually showed
that a smaller percentage of mares played than geldings. They don’t have any stallion
data because no stallions were included in this particular study. But it was interesting
to see some sex differences in play behavior. The horses that were categorized with higher
stress levels were observed playing more. And so the ways they measured stress – they
did look at coritsol – they looked at heart rate, they looked at sort of almost what they
would consider signs of depression. So that withdrawal behavior or just kind of standing
idle in their stalls during the day, looking at the wall, not very reactive to stimuli.
They looked at several different behaviors and basically put together a total stress
index and then associated that or compared that with the play behavior. And so the horses
that were categorized with those higher stress levels were observed to play more, they engaged
in more frequent play. The horses that liked to play tended to act more aggressively towards
humans. Those horses showed at least one more aggressive type interaction with the human
handler, sot that was kind of an interesting finding from this study as well. And another
interesting part of this study is in all the behavior observations, they did look at stereotypic
behavior and they found in both groups of horses, the players and sort of horses that
tended not to play as much, there was a higher portion of stereotypic behaviors in both groups.
So they didn’t find significant difference in play behavior associated with stereotypic
behaviors. So whether they were cribbers or weavers, stallwalkers, you know, some were
stereotypic behavior horses that played a lot and some of the stereotypic behavior horses
didn’t play as much. So we’re not really sure what that means from this particular study
but I think it’s interesting that both play and stereotypic behavior might be an outlet
for horses if they are experiencing a higher level of stress when they’re turned out in
the paddock, it may provide some activity, it may provide some stimulation in an otherwise
stressful or maybe sub-optimal environment. Stereotypic behavior and the performance of
steretypies like cribbing and weaving are also thought to play some function or role
in alleviating stress and alleviating a barren environment for horses. So it’s kind of interesting
with that result as well. So overall conclusions from this study: stressed animals may display
more play behaviors to escape their stress. That was one of the conclusions that they
drew from this paper. Play behavior may be a useful indicator of stressed horses or horses
in physical pain and this warrants further investigation. One of the other things they
actually looked at in these riding school horses – they had a veterinarian, a professional,
come in and assess lumbar pain. So they were actually looking at spinal pain in these horses
and there was some association between horse that were showing pain response in their backs
and the play behavior. So that was also very interesting. Play behavior may help horses
cope with an unfavorable life conditions or environment. So again, a very important study
but a little bit different take on this because again, we usually think of play in terms of
positive welfare. This might indicate that play is being used to alleviate a stressful
situation so almost an indicator in the opposite direction in that it may be an indicator of
more reduced welfare. Another thing that several researchers and scientists and practitioners
are working towards especially in the United Kingdom is this qualitative assessment of
ridden horse behavior. So, when horses are in training when they’re ridden under saddle,
are there certain behaviors that might be indicative of their response to equipment
or the way they’re being ridden, or the way they’re being trained. We can look at again
body posture, we can look at their mouth and their structure of their mouth and their tongue
and things that they do with their head and their mouth as they’re being ridden with a
certain type of bridle or bit. And so if we can develop this category of behaviors, what
we call the ethogram of ridden horse behaviors, and then look at that in conjunction with
some of these other indicators we’ve been talking about tonight – some of the cortisol
response, the heart rate – we can start to better understand and maybe have some criteria
for sitting back and looking at these horses and understanding how our style of riding
or how the equipment or how the training techniques are affecting these horses. And I think that’s
a great next step and a really important step as it relates to assessing welfare in horses
and making some improvements and changes in the way that we do things. So, the last thing
I want to talk about is giving you all some tools and some resources that relate specifically
to equine welfare assessment. So one of the things we talked about this evening was body
condition scoring in horses and we actually do have a separate previous webcast that focuses
on body condition and I think it does introduce the eXtension horses body condition scoring
app. Information about the app is also available on the eXtension horses website. But this
is a smartphone app. It’s available through iTunes and Google Play and it’s pictured here
on the left lower side of the screen. But this is an app that when it’s downloaded on
your phone, it has both a learn and a score feature. The learn feature walks through each
of the nine levels or nine numbers on the Henneke body condition score scale, you can
go from a one to a nine and it actually shows an image or an example of what a one, two,
three, four all the way up to nine horse looks like. It also talks about how you go about
scoring the horse as well as why body condition scoring is important. In the score feature
then, it actually allows you to take a picture of your horse or of the horse that you want
to condition score, it captures that image, it will date stamp that image. So the idea
is so that you can score that animal – so you do the scoring yourself, but you can score
the animal based on assessing each of those six areas of the horse’s body so you can give
the loin, the ribs, the tailhead, the withers, the neck and the shoulder a score and then
it will calculate the overall score. So it will basically average that out across the
six areas of the body. Then it archives that score and there is a desktop version of this
app, so once you have collected your horse’s data or horses at your farm’s data, you can
go into the desktop app and recall those horses that have been recorded and then you can actually
there’s a print icon in the desktop version and it allows you to print that information.
But it’s a great tool; this has also been really helpful for ag law enforcement. We’ve
been sharing this app and presenting this to some of our ag deputies in the state of
Florida through our ag law enforcement training program. We talk a lot about equine welfare
assessment and how to respond to neglect cases and the body condition score app, I think,
is pretty really helpful, especially the learn feature. Because if they need a quick reference
of you know, ‘Okay is this a one? Or is this a two? How would I categorize this horse?
How would I assign a score to this horse?’ It can be very helpful. But again, for horse
owners it’s a really great tool too just to keep track of your horse’s health and condition.
Another really exciting app that came out recently; the animal welfare indicator network,
the AWIN Group, this is Dr. Michela Minero and her group out of Italy. They have worked
really hard to develop and validate a horse grimace scale app. The only thing about this
app is currently it’s only available through Google Play so it’s available for Android
devices but yet available for IOS through iTunes. But it basically goes back to the
one image that I showed you a few slides back – the Arabian horse that’s having his foot
worked on and he’s clearly in some pain, experiencing some pain – they have validated using a pain
model looking at horses that have been castrated with and without analgesic and non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs and also control horses that are not receiving both drugs but just
sort of a sedation. And they can actually validate looking at the horses’ facial expressions
on a scale of basically one to five how much pain post surgery or during the horse’s recovery
is that horse actually experiencing. And again, this can actually be something helpful for
horse owners too because if you have had a horse that’s come home from the hospital,
they are recovering, it might be a way for you to track and record how they’re responding
to treatment and to their recovery process. But again, from a welfare perspective, this
is something we really needed to come out and it’s pretty exciting in that we’re able
to use facial expressions to validate and to actually assess welfare. Another resource
that we can probably give some of you guys access to is this guide to equine welfare
assessment. This is a document that was developed quite a few years back now, but it was really
designed for 4-H leaders and 4-H youth as a really fun and exciting activity that they
could do even during the winter months when they’re not actively out riding maybe as much,
but something they could engage in that talks about all the different indicators that we’ve
mentioned tonight, giving you some tools and some guidance on what is welfare, why is it
important, how do you go about assessing that? It covers body condition scoring, it covers
stress responses – looking at cortisol, heart rate, and so forth. But it’s available as
a PDF document. This was something we developed at Michigan State University and I think we’d
be happy to share this with you if you guys are interested. Especially if you have a role
in educating youth because I think it’d be a really neat, really fun activity for your
youth. There’s a couple websites that I just wanted to share quickly. The American Association
of Equine Practitioners has a part of their website devoted specifically to equine welfare.
So they have everything from guidelines and white papers on very specific issues and situations.
So they have welfare statements for carriage horses for example, horses that work in urban
environments. They have pretty specific and very useful resources on equine abuse, neglect,
and abandonment. Both from kind of the equine rescues perspective you know, how would you
actually assess and make sure that equine rescues are having the resources that they
need and finding the resources they need to provide good care for horses that have been
abandoned or neglect. But also from the law enforcement side. They have a PowerPoint that’s
available and some other resources that actually help those that are going out and reporting
to neglect and abuse cases. They also have equine welfare position statements again,
as it relates to different disciplines or different types of horses. There’s just a
wealth of resources on there and I find that very very helpful and some of their work is
a little bit more based on some of the science and some of the things we’re learning out
of equine welfare science. So that’s a good thing to have as a resource. The International
Society for Equitation Science, this is an organization that has been conducting ongoing
equine welfare research, behavior and welfare research for the last ten or so years. This
is a multidiscipline – several researchers from across the globe are involved in this
society. Their website is also a really good resource. But essentially this group, this
organization, is concerned with the application of objective research and advanced practice
to training and riding horses. So the overall mission of International Society of Equitation
Science is to improve the welfare of horses in their associations with humans. So they
are researching and looking at equine welfare from multiple avenues, multiple disciplines.
So this includes learning theory, understanding better how horses learn and how certain training
methodologies effect or impact horse learning and cognition. They’re looking at behavior
or just nature and ethology of the horse. We look at biomechanics, psychology, as well
as sport science – so looking at the rider impact and helping riders interact better
with their horses as well. I’ve also just left you with a few references. These are
some of the sources I’ve used to put together the presentation this evening. This article
by Hockenhull is very interesting. This is an equine veterinary education article or
review of approaches to assessing equine welfare. It talks a little bit more in depth and provides
some additional resources on the five freedoms and several of some of the things we’ve discussed
tonight as it related to how we go about assessing welfare. The Guide to Equine Welfare Assessment
is also listed there, Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University. And then
the two papers that I shared with you this evening – the Benhajali and the Hausberger
et al. looking on significance of adult play and foraging opportunities for horses and
how that seems to be affecting welfare. With that, I think I went a little longer than
I wanted to but I’m hoping that we can have at least a few minutes now for some questions
and discussion. So thank you very much for your attention! It was an absolute pleasure
to be with you this evening and we’ll be happy to take questions. So once again, to the participants,
if you have a question that you’d like to ask, up at the top of your screen you should
see a link that says Q & A and you should just click on that and you can go ahead and
type in your question for Carissa and click on the send button. Okay, I just received
a question – what do you think is our greatest challenge in equine welfare today? That is
an excellent question. I think one of the biggest challenges, I still feel like it’s
really – it can be very difficult but very important to assess the concept of welfare
that deals with the horses affective state. So, we know that we want to avoid fear and
distress in horses, especially fear responses. We need to understand fear and pain and distress
in horses better so that we can be extra careful that we’re avoiding that in horses. Horses
in terms of their behavior, that strong flight response that our domestic horses have held
on to so well, it had survival value to the horse. So that’s probably to this day what
we see in terms of horse behavior that really influences a lot of their other behavior.
If we implement a training methodology or approach a horse or do something with a horse
that elicits a fear response, it is so hard to then help that horse get over that fear
response. So I think understanding a horse’s affective state is probably one of the biggest
challenges. On the human side, I think one of the biggest challenges is the education
component. Understanding welfare enough and being comfortable with it enough to engage
in conversations and discussions with others, especially when people ask us questions, you
know, depending on whatever discipline we’re riding – if we’re riding western, if we have
reining horses, dressage horses, eventing, hunter jumper – all across the board in our
equine industry. There are certain practices that I think still get questioned and so we’re
trying to do the research to better understand how the horses are responding to some of those
so that we actually have more evidence and more useful information to say whether that
really negatively or positively impacts the horse and then we can make better judgments
on that and help educate others. I hope that answered your question. Are there any other
questions? Carissa, I see a question in here asking when the webinar will be available
for viewing on their website. I hope to have that up on our My Horse University website
tomorrow. I would check late tomorrow afternoon. Okay, thank you. Alright, well I’ll wrap up
with a few things here. Carissa, we still have some questions that come through, we
can go back in and answer them. Well, actually, let’s pause for a second here. Gwyn, we just
had a questions – if we are interested in getting the 4-H publication, will we be able
to send that out to attendees? Or should they contact us directly for access to that? We’ve
actually – Dr. Chris Skelly who’s on this webinar as well helping to answer questions,
she has actually already emailed someone to see if we can find where that publication
is. If you’re interested, I would suggest that you contact us at [email protected]
Okay, excellent. And I’m going to put that email right here in the response to the question.
And
we might have a questions from someone else here, let me see here. Looks like there’s
one in our chat. Are you seeing that one Carissa? Yes. Okay. Alright. I think that last question
was maybe a compliment to Carissa about her fantastic presentation this evening, so that’s
wonderful! Alright, so, Carissa if you would forward to the next slide. Oh yes. As we’re
wrapping up here, of course we’d like to thank Carissa for this wonderful talk this evening.
We really appreciate that and like to thank all of you as well for some of your questions
here at the end of the presentation. We really appreciate that as well. All of you are going
to receive an email shortly in the next couple of days with an invitation to participate
in an online survey about tonight’s webcast. And of course, your feedback is what helps
us put together more of these webinars on topics that – in areas you’re really interested
in. So I have a URL for the webcast here and I put it in the chat as well. There you go.
So up at the top of your screen, you have the option for chat and if you go ahead and
click on that, there should be an active link to this tinyurl right here. And it’s a very
short survey, just a few questions and it would really help us out if you could take
a few minutes to answer those questions. Would you forward to the next slide Carissa? Of
course, also make sure to check us out on Facebook, both My Horse University and eXtension
horse quest for up to date information about events, promotions and more. We’ll also be
posting a link to this recording on our Facebook page as well. So as we mentioned earlier,
I hope to have the recording up on our website by the end of the week. If you have any questions
in the meantime, please contact us at [email protected] And with that, unless there’s any additional
questions, I think we are done for this evening. Okay, thank you very much!

Comments (1)

  1. Very informative. Thanks alot 🙂

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